Nonprofit providers appealed Monday to Florida’s U.S. senators to advocate for COVID-19 relief for the state’s long-term care community, which is being hammered by the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic is a “Category 5 emergency bearing down on millions of older adults in Florida and across the United States,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said during a media call. 

Joining her were Steve Bahmer, head of LeadingAge Florida, and Jay Solomon, CEO of Aviva, a senior living community in Sarasota. Bahmer noted that over the last two weeks, Florida has become an epicenter of the crisis, with more than 11,000 cases each day. Nearly 2,400 long-term care residents and staff have died as a result of the virus. That figure represents just under half of all coronavirus-related deaths in the state, he said, citing statistics in a situation report.

Costs related to the virus — for everything from personal protective equipment to infection control, staffing and testing — “are simply unsustainable,” he said.

Solomon pointed out that his community received more than $500,000 through the latest CARES Act funding. But that money is likely to run out by the end of July.

“No provider should have to make such a tough decision as: Do we test the staff this week or do we test residents this week?” said Solomon, who noted that occupancy at his organization had sunk from 90% to 75%.

The U.S. Senate returned to session this week and leaders are expected to propose a stimulus bill that will be debated over the next several weeks. A letter from Bahmer to Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R) asks them to champion older adults in such a bill.

Costs for COVID-19 testing are of particular concern to Florida providers. Bills range from $25,000 to $300,000 a month on an individual provider basis. Solomon said the cost of testing his staff twice a month is $60,000 per month. Add twice-monthly resident testing and that figure soars to $120,000 per month, he said.

The providers also expressed frustration over a lack of clarity concerning the federal government’s recent rollout of point-of-care testing. The administration said last week it initially would provide the testing to 2,000 providers in hot-spot areas. Bahmer, however, said he did not know if any Florida facilities are among the 2,000 to receive the point-of-care tests.

“We don’t know where they’re going. We don’t know when they’ll arrive,” he said. “We just don’t know very much about it yet.”

Sloan said she was optimistic last week when the government made its announcement but felt “deeply disturbed” when the president recently took a stance that no funding for testing or contract tracing should be included in any new stimulus bill. There’s a “state of confusion right now,” she said.

Solomon agreed: “I think ‘murky’ is still a good adjective to describe rapid testing.”